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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 155 pages of information about Backlog Studies.

II

The above is introduced here in order to illustrate the usual effect of an anecdote on conversation.  Commonly it kills it.  That talk must be very well in hand, and under great headway, that an anecdote thrown in front of will not pitch off the track and wreck.  And it makes little difference what the anecdote is; a poor one depresses the spirits, and casts a gloom over the company; a good one begets others, and the talkers go to telling stories; which is very good entertainment in moderation, but is not to be mistaken for that unwearying flow of argument, quaint remark, humorous color, and sprightly interchange of sentiments and opinions, called conversation.

The reader will perceive that all hope is gone here of deciding whether Herbert could have written Tennyson’s poems, or whether Tennyson could have dug as much money out of the Heliogabalus Lode as Herbert did.  The more one sees of life, I think the impression deepens that men, after all, play about the parts assigned them, according to their mental and moral gifts, which are limited and preordained, and that their entrances and exits are governed by a law no less certain because it is hidden.  Perhaps nobody ever accomplishes all that he feels lies in him to do; but nearly every one who tries his powers touches the walls of his being occasionally, and learns about how far to attempt to spring.  There are no impossibilities to youth and inexperience; but when a person has tried several times to reach high C and been coughed down, he is quite content to go down among the chorus.  It is only the fools who keep straining at high C all their lives.

Mandeville here began to say that that reminded him of something that happened when he was on the—­

But Herbert cut in with the observation that no matter what a man’s single and several capacities and talents might be, he is controlled by his own mysterious individuality, which is what metaphysicians call the substance, all else being the mere accidents of the man.  And this is the reason that we cannot with any certainty tell what any person will do or amount to, for, while we know his talents and abilities, we do not know the resulting whole, which is he himself.  The fire-tender.  So if you could take all the first-class qualities that we admire in men and women, and put them together into one being, you wouldn’t be sure of the result?

Herbert.  Certainly not.  You would probably have a monster.  It takes a cook of long experience, with the best materials, to make a dish “taste good;” and the “taste good” is the indefinable essence, the resulting balance or harmony which makes man or woman agreeable or beautiful or effective in the world.

The young lady.  That must be the reason why novelists fail so lamentably in almost all cases in creating good characters.  They put in real traits, talents, dispositions, but the result of the synthesis is something that never was seen on earth before.

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